Recently, Selam Aster, a writer for MadameNoire, a popular black news website came under criticism for an article denouncing the “authentic blackness” of actress Paula Patton.
I’m not saying Patton is white, but she played that character like a straight up white girl. In fact, she could’ve easily been replaced by Tara Reid and no-one would probably have noticed if they just closed their eyes. Just because you’re playing well-to-do doesn’t mean you’re devoid of all of the natural sass and rhythmic intonations of a Black person.
Aster criticized Patton’s roles in Just Wright and Jumping the Broom. The source of the writer’s complaint: Paula speaks and sounds like a “generic white girl.” She lacks swagger, unlike say, Taraji P. Henson or even Angela Bassett. Now, the criticism of Patton isn’t about her biracial heritage, which I could understand criticism of, but rather, its her lack of “authentic” black speech, attitude and swagger.
When the piece did not get the bandwagon support the writer was hoping for, she wrote a follow-up piece explaining herself; although, I am not sure why. Aster seems to believe the main reason for readers’ disagreement is that they missed her point, which she further explains in the follow-up article.
Readers had knee-jerk reactions, Clutch wrote a vehement editorial opposing it, and The Grio recently republished Clutch’s piece, further promoting the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of my thoughts.
Aster fails to realize that many people did get her point in the original article. They simply disagree with it. Her point: black people are defined by certain mannerisms, attitude, swagger, etc. Furthermore, her argument for “authentic blackness” is no different than believing that blacks who don’t live in a ghetto aren’t truly black.
It’s mind-boggling why so many are obsessed with pigeonholing black people, even when they understand it’s harmful and dishonest. But, even as we get ready to welcome 2012, there are still people who believe that black people are a certain way (poor, ghetto-dwelling, black speech, attitude, etc). Sadly, as long as even black people believe they are racially defined and confined to certain characteristics, then this ignorant belief will never die.
Aster explains “authentic blackness” versus “other” blackness as the difference between Bryant Gumbel and Denzel Washington, both sophisticated black men, with the former sounding “generically white” and the latter sounding stereotypically black.
Sass is a birthright. Sass, to me, is what defines Black speech, rhetoric and swagger. And yes, even if you talk “proper” you most likely still have some rhythm and sass. Why else can you always tell whose Black on the phone? It’s a natural affliction, but not a bad thing.
Myself and many readers disagree. And, we have a low tolerance for the “authentic black” belief, popular among many black and non-black people alike. Black people are not walking stereotypes (imagine: rapper or black comedian), nor are we a monolith of culture, attitude, swagger and speech.
I am not defending Patton, who’s a lousy actress who gets ahead because she’s the new “mulatta” in Hollywood (she’s replaced Halle Berry) who can fill the token black female lead quota. But, the “monolithic black stereotype” is silly. And, I am glad readers agree and came down harshly on Aster.